Wednesday night’s federal budget announced $273 million over five years for eastern ferry services, which in P.E.I. includes the Wood Islands service as well as a crossing from Souris to the Magdalen Islands.
While the details of how that money will be spent have yet to be announced, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser said it’s good news for the region.
There was uncertainty surrounding the Wood Islands service last year, which only had one ferry operating instead of its usual two-ferry service.
The funding outlined in Wednesday’s budget will allow for the full two-ferry service, which provides seasonal employment for more than 200 employees.
While it’s important for the tourism industry, Fraser said he had also heard from many people in other businesses including agriculture and natural resources that depend on the link to P.E.I. Their cost of transportation greatly increases when they have to travel by the bridge rather the ferry.
“It’s really a key piece of infrastructure,” he said.
The last five-year ferry contract expired in 2010. Since then, there have been short contracts ranging from one to three years.
Fraser said there are a number of other ways that this budget directly serves Pictou County and Atlantic Canada as a whole.
As a representative of the Status of Women Committee, Fraser said he was glad to see the budget is one that supports gender equality.
“Our economy grows when we support women to reach their full potential,” he said.
Examples of these investments include the extension of the Canadian Child Care Benefit, money for women’s transition shelters as well as more support for affordable child care which makes it easier for parents to get back to work.
Investments in high speed Internet in rural areas is something Fraser said might not be in the budget if it weren’t for people in communities like Pictou County stepping up and voicing their concern during pre-budget consultations across the country.
“This is an issue that didn’t come from the election platform,” Fraser said.
He said it’s clear that people don’t want high-speed Internet access so they can watch Netflix, but because it’s needed for businesses and economic growth in general.
“We understand that broadband access in remote and rural communities is a key priority,” he said.
Atlantic Growth Strategy
Last summer the federal government announced the Atlantic Growth Strategy which includes input from Atlantic Canada’s 32 MPs on topics focused on: a skilled workforce/immigration, clean growth and climate change, innovation, trade and investment and infrastructure.
“You see these priorities reflected in the budget immensely,” Fraser said. “You do see the innovation item for example with major investments with helping people get the skills they need to take part in the digital economy.”
Other examples include money for research at universities in Atlantic Canada and support for infrastructure projects like the Nova Scotia Community College Campus in Stellarton making it easier for people in the area to learn valuable trades.
Atlantic Fisheries Fund
While it was already announced a couple of weeks ago, Fraser said the Atlantic Fisheries Fund which is part of this year’s budget is huge for the area as well.
The fund provides $325 million specifically to help grow the fishery with a focus on developing the sector to better meet growing market demands for sustainably sourced, high-quality fish and seafood products.
“This is a game changer for the fishery in Nova Scotia,” Fraser said.
He believes by tapping into new markets local fishermen will see higher prices for their products.
Defending defence spending
While the Liberals have taken a lot of heat for not increasing the amount of defence spending in the budget, Fraser said that the budget has huge benefits for veterans in the community including support for helping them obtain post secondary education after their military careers are done. There’s also career transition training money available.
“I challenge the assertion there’s insufficient spending,” he said.
He said the minister of defence is in the middle of conducting a defence policy review after which there may be some changes announced.
“I don’t doubt for a moment that we’ll be doing our part when it comes to supporting the military,” he said.