19 August 2009

Great Gambols with Public Money: The Stunnel, Part Deux

The sort of collective insanity that leads people to support incredibly asinine ideas like the Stunnel isn’t confined to any one political party.

Consider these musings from Liberal leader Yvonne Jones in the Wednesday Telegram.  The story isn’t available online.

Jones, it should be noted, just happens to represent the electoral district into which the Stunnel would go to connect the island of Newfoundland with the continent.

That is a mere coincidence, though.

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones said while fixing Marine Atlantic's service has to be done in short order, the long term solution could be reopening a 2004 report on a fixed link between the  Northern Peninsula and Labrador.

"It's pretty much common knowledge that if you're going to have a  strong economy, a functional economy, you need to be able to have good  transportation and communication links to the rest of the world," she said.

"The realty is we are losing business because of the level of service that's being provided. People are turning away at the docks."

Whether it's a tunnel, bridge or some other link, Jones said transportation to the mainland cannot depend on someone else's schedule.

It’s pretty much common knowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador has a strong, functioning economy complete with diverse and very good transportation and other communications links to the rest of the world.

There is a very particular problem with one service that is provided by an agency that seems chronically unable to sort out the difficulties.

The solution to this particular problem is to sort out this particular problem, not peddle some completely lunatic idea to spend untold billions digging a hole through which trains would run. 

The solution isn’t even to dig a hole through which people might drive their cars at a cost of billions which will never – realistically – be repaid or otherwise recovered.

All that Jones has offered up here is just more of the same old ideas that haven’t worked to solve the Marine Atlantic problem before. 

One very plausible solution would be to end Marine Atlantic’s monopoly and allow competition on the run.  A similar idea would be to dispose of the Crown corporation altogether and let a private sector company enter the picture. 

After all, if there is that much business being lost – as Jones claims – there’s likely room for another carrier.

Maybe that other carrier can run between Halifax and the Port of St. John’s.  Maybe that carrier would run between Montreal – for argument sake – and Stephenville or Corner Brook.

But wait.

Even in the absence of a competitive ferry service, there is an alternative already.  There are other cargo ships that ply the waters between the island of Newfoundland and the mainland of the continent.  Tourists can fly into airports located conveniently near the major attractions.

Any of these are viable options to digging a hole in the ground and pouring public money in behind it.

On some level, though, the longer Marine Atlantic continues to screw up, the more it is just useful political fodder for everyone from provincial opposition politicians, to federal ones like Gerry Byrne to St. John’s city councillors. If Marine Atlantic stooped being a problem, they’d have to find something else to talk about.

Now to be fair to Sandy Hickman, he is just following on the time honoured tradition of St. John’s city politicians talking about anything but stuff they can do anything about or should be worried about.

The current mayor – Doc O’Keefe – rose to prominence by advocating for the province-wide gasoline price fixing scheme taxpayers in the province now pay for.

Wannabe deputy mayor Keith Coombs is a teacher who liked to use public money to run a hockey rink and failed entertainment operation, better known as the Wells-Coombs Memorial Money Pit.

You’d hear both of them on radio or television talking about that stuff long before you’d hear them talking about capital works plans or garbage collection.

At least Hickman offered up a half-ways sensible idea that might just work and at no cost to the taxpayers.

On that ground alone, he should get re-elected to city council. 

Heck, on that ground alone, he should enter provincial or federal politics.

At least his head is screwed on straight.