As anyone who’s ever visited Newfoundland knows, there’s a lot to like about the ruggedly spectacular island in the North Atlantic.
But for some Newfoundlanders, there’s a loneliness of sorts that could be eased if the island were connected to mainland Canada by a fixed link.
During the federal election campaign, Newfoundland Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan promoted a fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador.
Touting the idea as a symbol of nation-building, O’Regan pointed to the Liberal Party platform, which says a fixed link “will give people living on the island of Newfoundland a permanent and secure way to travel to and from mainland Canada, while helping make things like food and household goods more affordable.”
Fixed links are common in Canada. They include the Lions Gate Bridge and Granville Bridge in British Columbia, the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ont., with Detroit, Mich., the Ile d’Orleans Bridge across the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City and the Confederation Bridge attaching Prince Edward Island to mainland Canada via New Brunswick.
A 2004 study for the government of then-premier Danny Williams recommended a tunnel across the Strait of Belle Isle as the proposed fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador.
Since O’Regan revived the idea, Williams has told Global News he strongly supports the concept.
Premier Dwight Ball says the fixed link would provide benefits for all Canadians, comparing it to the Confederation Bridge. But, Ball says the province could not fund the project on its own.
The study’s projected cost of a tunnel — $1.7 billion — makes no sense to critics, who note the estimate would be much higher in 2019 dollars.
In the province’s capital, St. John’s, public policy analyst Ed Hollett has a blunt nickname for the proposal.
“Well, I call it the stunnel because it’s a stunned tunnel — stunned in the Newfoundland sense of being stupid or moronic or having no real purpose,” he said.
Hollett says there’s no highway that would connect the tunnel directly to Quebec or major population centres.
He says there’s simply not enough traffic for the idea to make financial sense.
“There’s no economic case for it, and until somebody makes an economic case for it, it’s not gonna happen,” Hollett said.
The province is still hurting from the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador, which has gone billions of dollars over budget, raising fears electricity bills could skyrocket to pay for the massive cost overruns.
If a fixed link does happen, the federal government would be pressured to pay much of the price tag.
But a spokesman for O’Regan says no decisions will be made until after cabinet is formed on Nov. 20.