Last month, premier Dwight Ball confirmed what many of us had long suspected: that his plan for The Way Forward involves digging the province into a very deep hole. Wakka wakka! I’m here every month.
Anyway, the provincial government announced that it is really enthusiastic about building a tunnel from Labrador to Newfoundland across the strait of Belle Isle. Ball has said this will be a grand nation-building project that will encourage visitors and residents alike to spend more time in the Big Land and the Great Northern Peninsula by making it more accessible. Also, like any good megaproject shilled by a provincial government, this one will create jobs!!!! Sweet, sweet construction/trades jobs in government districts for the 15 years it takes to build, the Alpha and Omega of provincial infrastructure policy.
Having examined three options, the government determined that the best plan is to build two one-way rail tunnels for about $1.7 billion. Ish, give or take, all things being equal, etc. This is a pre-feasibility study and most numbers presented are meaningless. The formal feasibility study will cost another $23 million, which I guess will get underway whenever the Liberals need to pad out some budget announcements.
But it’s all good, right. They built that bridge to P.E.I. and we’re going to build this. The tunnel will be a public-private partnership and the feds and maybe even Quebec will chip in a bit of money for it probably, so it’ll be deadly. We’re not in a rush anyways so don’t even sweat it.
I have complicated feelings about the tunnel. On the one hand, a tunnel and all its related spinoffs would be grand. Rebuild Route 430 into a slick new highway and make the drive down to Deer Lake the Northern answer to California’s Route 1. To hell with it. If you’re going to do it, do it right, go all in, make it rain.
On the other hand: are you serious? We are barely rolling on an inquiry into our last megaproject and we’re already planning another. I understand the impulse — the Labrador Tunnel is the politics’ equivalent of browsing eBay while you’re broke. You need something to fire your aspiration — that thing you’re going to get when the cheques finally clear. So dream all you want, but don’t buy any gardening equipment until you’re out of overdraft, and don’t quit your day job.
This is like drawing blueprints for a new storey on your house while the roof is actively on fire — which is the way things in this province work when left on autopilot. Our economy depends on megaprojects, fish, oil, government jobs, and culture. The fishery was abandoned by government decades ago, and culture/bureaucrats are (in principle) auxiliary to other economic activity. Oil makes bank but the revenue is undependable and also it kills the planet.
But megaprojects are win-win. Worst case scenario, you just get to kick the worst effects of chronic high unemployment down the road, and best case scenario you also create some lucrative long-term investment. In the 170-year-odd quest to diversify the economy, the method is always to put as many of our eggs as we can into the biggest basket we find, a method almost sublime in its irony.
For whatever reason, it hasn’t worked yet.
This time it will. Abandon the negativity surrounding Muskrat Falls. Turn your face with gladness towards the future tunnel to Labrador. Know that this megaproject will finally smash the karmic wheel upon which our people have been broken. And that’s worth as many cost overruns as it takes.