Jean Charest has announced the construction of the "missing link" in Quebec's Route 138. Sorta.
As Radio-Canada reports:
But the fight to extend the 138 is still not over: in order to undertake the work, the federal government will also have to invest at least $100-million. [Translation; similar story from CBC Montreal here]
Hmmm. Sounds familiar. Too familiar. In fact, it sounds identical to Danny Williams' "committment" to the Trans-Labrador Highway. Jean Charest is taking a page from Danny's playbook: "commit" to something — a road
here, an auditorium
there — with the caveat that someone else, i.e.
Ottawa, pay half the freight (or more).
Furthermore, in the Route 138 case, Quebec didn't even nominate the highway east of Sept-Iles as part of the National Highway System in the latest round of additions. (As far as Sept-Iles, it was already on the list.)
Given that there are already roadblocks to federal funding — no program yet exists — for most of the NHS system, what will be the policy basis on which Quebec will request a minimum of 50% federal funding for Route 138? And what will be the policy basis on which the federal government would provide it?
Besides than the obvious geographical one — another piece of the highway puzzle would link Labrador to the rest of the continent — there are other, and more immediate, implications for Labrador and for The Williams Administration, as the provincial government formerly known as The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador now seems to be official known.1.
Charest is asking for a minimum
of 50% federal funding. That's a floor
, not a ceiling. What if Lawrence Cannon agrees?2.
As previously noted
, Harper didn't promise 50-50 funding in his much ballyhooed election letter, Danny's spin and BS
notwithstanding. What happens if Harper lives up to his promise to "cost-share" the TLH, but at a formula which involves a federal contribution of less than 50%?3.
Finally, as part of the polling-period HappyTalk barrage that The Williams Administration is currently engaged in, transportation minister John Hickey yesterday told the state broadcaster — no, not that
one — that he might get his money next summer. But there's a catch:
The Minister of Transportation says he expects to see federal funding for the Trans Labrador Highway flow from Ottawa next summer. Speaking on VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms, John Hickey said he has made the case to the federal government for additional funding for the highway, and has received assurances from Federal minister Lawrence Cannon. Hickey says an agreement with the feds for $100 million over the next five years for hard surfacing of TLH from Goose Bay to Labrador West should be signed by June of next year.
Harper promised, in writing, to "cost share", whatever that means in terms of a formula, the completion of Trans-Labrador Highway. But Danny Williams and The Administration are prepared to settle for a cost-sharing of the paving of the 1/3 of the TLH which connects Labrador City to Happy Valley-Goose Bay as fulfilment of Harper's promise.
So much for the reputation of Danny the Great Negotiator and Slayer of Federal Dragons! He has just given away any political claim he might have to federal funding for the other, longer, 2/3 of the TLH from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to L'Anse au Clair!!!
This coastal segment of the Quebec-Labrador highway system could end up being politically sandwiched between a highway connecting the not-coincidentally vote-rich (by Labrador standards) regions of western and central Labrador, paved with 50-cent dollars, and a Lower North Shore Route 138 built with 50-cent-or-less dollars.
Danny could easily end up sandbagged here. If Lawrence Cannon accedes to Charest's
request, it will make Danny look to be the chump. And if Lawrence Cannon accedes to Danny's
request, it will mean Danny has bargained Harper's commitment down
from what the PM put to paper during the election, and that he has settled for less than what was on the political table.
If Lawrence Cannon accedes to either request, but not both, where does that leave the frustrated Premier? Cannon and Harper can hardly agree to Danny's request, let alone honour Harper's full paper promise to Labrador, without (further) alienating voters in the province that may just hold the key to Harper's much-coveted majority. And they can hardly agree to the Quebec demand, made in a policy vacuum, when the TLH, unlike the 138, is part of the NHS and supposedly has priority for federal-provincial (note: not just federal, Danny and Administration) funding.
And Route 389, without which the paved highway in western and central Labrador will be a transportation orphan, seems to have been utterly forgotten.
Perhaps more than ever before there is a need for a common, two-province vision for highway transportation in the northeast. But perhaps more than ever, domestic politics in both provinces, and their relations with the federal government, are working against it.
In the meantime one has to wonder: what kind of a committment is it, how integral and important a part of a province are you, if your Premier will only ever make 50% of a so-called "commitment"?PS
— Charest's 138 plan still has a notable gap in it. Assuming the road gets built according to his plan, there would still be a hiatus in the highway between Natashquan and Kegaska. The villages from Kegaska to St. Augustine would become linked by highway to Labrador... but not to the rest of their own province. Quebec nationalists seem blissfully unconcerned.
Can you imagine a universe in which the reverse were true — Labrador was connected to Quebec but not to Newfoundland — and the Newfoundland nationalists didn't break a sweat?