Government officials and the private sector have started work to reconnect the southwest side of the province of Newfoundland to the rest of the country.
On Monday, Newfoundland’s minister of transport announced a first in the province: a First Nation led transit service in Gander.
The Gander municipal service had its days cut short as the province began building the Naqnique oil pipeline in 1963. In 1975, a section of the pipeline was purchased and operated by the Alberta-based oil company, Husky Energy, which has since agreed to terminate the controversial pipeline.
“It will create and expand opportunities for our citizens to connect with job opportunities and social programs, in an affordable manner while also promoting economic diversification,” said P.M. Herb Cox, chairman of Newfoundland Transport.
He said that the Newfoundlanders must have better access to travel in order to compete and remain economically successful.
“We have to move away from looking at the oil boom in 1970,” said British Columbia politician and former First Nations economy adviser Stephen Lecce. “We need to look at the other industries that we can create. Oil is a source of energy, it is not a end. It’s not even an end in itself.”
There were many Canadians who recognized that a pipeline with the potential to create jobs and economic diversification was crucial to the survival of many of the province’s more remote communities. “Suktucket,” wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in an essay published as part of a short “thank you” to those who protested the pipeline. “That community and the people who live there will always have a special place in my heart, and are incredibly worthy of the fair share of rights, opportunities and resources we accorded them.”
For many decades, following the energy boom in the 1970s, Canada focused on developing an energy-sustainable economy. In contrast, Newfoundlanders have felt left behind. They argue that the country has given equal treatment to the other oil-producing provinces, but reserves have provided fewer benefits to the province.
“There are more problems and problems across Newfoundland and Labrador than to begin building this pipeline,” said Caught Joyal, chairperson of the Red Deer-based EcoJustice Canada, at a press conference on Friday. “It’s one of the main things we’re trying to do. So how many more pipelines does this province need? We know that Quebec had some pipeline projects and they changed quite a bit. People in Quebec have rights and we must not take their rights for granted.”
Mr. Lecce points out that there was already a highway within Newfane to transport workers, businesspeople and tourists between Montreal and the Gander – a more efficient, modern mode of transport that, in time, could have potentially moreened the pain felt by residents on the southwest side of the province.
“A day’s drive away from Montreal is an opportunity for us to focus on. Those are days that are not necessarily produced with the jobs and companies you bring across the border,” said Mr. Lecce. “That is a very important point to keep in mind.”
Energy has long been a divisive issue in Newfoundland. The $5.5 billion Naqnique oil pipeline will be the country’s final source of supply. But conservationists have criticized that the pipeline will continue extracting what they call fossil fuels through new means.
In Newfoundland, as a whole, only about 4.6 percent of the population is made up of people who would be considered oil-producing. But in Gander, the number is 47 percent. The nearby Point Pleasant peninsula – which consists of more than 1,100 green-belt acres – is home to about 15,000 people and 25 percent of the energy industry in Canada.