Dexter reflects on Cape Breton’s economy

 Premier Darrell Dexter sits down with the Cape Breton Post recently for a year-end interview. Steve Wadden – Cape Breton Post

Published on December 28th, 2010

Published on December 28th, 2010

Chris Shannon 

SYDNEY — Beyond the dredging of Sydney harbour, private-sector involvement will be essential for the Sydney Marine Group to acquire any additional funds from the province.

Topics :

Cape Breton Post , Xstrata Canada , Sydney Marine Group , Cape Breton , Sydney , Ottawa

That was the message from Premier Darrell Dexter in a year-end interview with the Cape Breton Post last week on what the partnership of local business entities must do to attract more investment from the public purse.

The province committed $15.2 million to the project on the contingency the federal government would contribute its $19 million share. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Ottawa’s portion of the harbour dredge financing on Dec. 10 while on a visit to Sydney.

“First of all, the private sector has to be there. If there are (investors) prepared to invest the money that it would take to set up a container terminal, then obviously we would want to make sure there was the infrastructure there to support that,” the premier said.

Dredging the harbour is seen as just one step in plans to develop a $200-million container terminal at the port of Sydney that would open the door to a range of business opportunities including bulk cargo, shipbuilding, offshore fabrication/services and containers.

The dredging consists of deepening the 8.5-kilometre entrance channel to Sydney harbour over a 10-week period. It has been described by several business and community leaders as potentially transformative for the region’s economy.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality agreed to provide $2 million in funding in May, while Nova Scotia Power earlier agreed to put up $1 million for the project.

“We still believe that contract (with Dutch firm Boskalis) can be done on budget, and we’d like to see this completed in the spring. We don’t see a reason why this can’t happen,” Dexter said.

Xstrata Canada, currently working to reopen the Donkin mine in 2013 or early 2014, hasn’t closed the door on shipping coal by rail to the harbour. Its only other alternative is the use of barges to transport coal from the Donkin shoreline to waiting transport ships in deeper water.

Dexter said there are obvious partnerships the Sydney Marine Group can forge to bring business into a revitalized port of Sydney, and Xstrata is one of the possibilities.

“A container pier might be one, but if that isn’t one then you look at ship repair, those other kinds of industrial harbour-related industries.

“The way that this was sold by the Sydney Marine Group was to say, ‘Give us the opportunity and we will take advantage of that opportunity to grow the economy of the island.’

“For me, people say this is a gamble, and I say it’s simply a gamble worth taking.”

Essential infrastructure such as the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, which weaves its rail line through the island, was given a boost in October when the province renewed its subsidy to the railway for an additional year. The provincial subsidy of up to $2 million per year established in 2005 had expired on March 31.

“It is fundamentally different than other pieces of infrastructure as we see it having a long-term economic viability to it that differentiates (the rail line) from other pieces of infrastructure, and that’s why we continue to support it,” the premier said.

However, he cautioned a long-term strategy for the rail system must be sought.

“We are being, I would suggest, pretty patient with that.”

As Dexter ends his first full year as the province’s first NDP premier, he said the province continues to “look for the opportunity to invest money in Cape Breton,” otherwise the island will remain in a state of decline.

“I think Cape Breton has to become one of the economic engines of the province if we’re going to be successful,” Dexter said.

That doesn’t mean diverting money away from Halifax, he added.

“You have many emerging business leaders (in Cape Breton). You look at success stories like AG (Research) and you look at Protocase. There are many examples of these small companies that have built themselves from the ground up.

“Having a successful Halifax does not mean every other place has to be unsuccessful. In fact, I believe it means the opposite. We have to find ways to build a stronger economy in other parts of the province. Halifax is healthier when the rest of the province is healthier.” (Courtesy of Cape Breton Post)


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