Feds' reluctance to pay for Chignecto Isthmus work 'embarrassing' for N.S. Liberal MPs: Houston

Amherst, N.S., on the border of New Brunswick, is shown. The Nova Scotia government has been urging Ottawa to be responsible for protecting the connection between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Amherst, N.S., on the border of New Brunswick, is shown. The Nova Scotia government has been urging Ottawa to be responsible for protecting the connection between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston took aim at the province's eight Liberal members of Parliament on Thursday, admonishing them for not convincing their own government to fund the work necessary to protect the Chignecto Isthmus.

The dike system that protects the stretch of land connecting Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and the rest of the country is in need of upgrades to protect against climate change, sea level rise, and storms that blow through the Maritimes — but there's no agreement on who should pay the massive bill.

"It starts to look more and more embarrassing for our Liberal members of Parliament in this province," Houston told reporters following a cabinet meeting Thursday. "To be part of a caucus who is being so unresponsive to such an important, important issue for the province that they represent."

Ottawa has said it's willing to pay half the estimated $650 million worth of work necessary to shore up or replace the dikes and other structures.

Dissatisfied with that offer, the Nova Scotia government launched a court action last July to force Ottawa to foot the entire bill. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have since joined that case.

CBC News
CBC News

That legal battle started just days after Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reluctantly applied to a federal program designed to fund climate change-related mitigation projects. It was their attempt to get some money from Ottawa for the project.

Both Houston and his minister of public works pointed to an announcement this week in Quebec City as proof Nova Scotia's claim for full funding is more than justified.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to spend $1 billion over the next 25 years to repair, repaint and maintain a bridge that spans the St. Lawrence River in Quebec's capital city.

A news release issued by the Prime Minister's Office described the Pont de Québec as "a critical regional transportation link, a strategic freight corridor, and an important element of the Canadian supply chain."

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

Houston said the same was true of the highway and rail line that run through the Chignecto Isthmus.

"When I hear the federal government [say] that particular piece of infrastructure is an important regional connector, I like hearing that because so is the isthmus," said Houston. "When I hear about the importance of that piece of infrastructure to the movement of goods and people, I like that because so is the Chignecto Isthmus.

"If that is the criteria that the federal government will use, then I am happy and I wonder what the delay is."

His cabinet colleague, Public Works Minister Kim Masland, agreed with the premier's reasoning, but took a harder stance. She accused the federal government of "a lack of leadership."

"Seeing what's happening with climatic events in our province, we're one storm away from losing that very important trade corridor," said Masland. "It's also not about just losing an important trade corridor, it's a possibility of losing communities, losing lives."

The minister said she believes Canadians are getting "fed up" with the Trudeau government.

"Do the right thing," she urged Ottawa.

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

Zach Churchill, the leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, suggested the province should be satisfied with the federal government's offer to pick up half the tab.

It's "very similar" to how the province's highways are paved, he noted.

Churchill put any delay in the project squarely on the shoulders of the Houston government.

"The premier is choosing to attack our federal MPs, the federal government, instead of actually working with them to get this project done," he said. "They put politics before people."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender suggested the province be less "combative" and more "constructive" with the federal government.

"What has to happen is everybody has to put their grown-up pants on and sit down at the table and come to an agreement about how to go forward," said Chender.

According to the Department of Public Works, Nova Scotia has spent roughly $450,000 on a feasibility study and "various professional services" for the Chignecto Isthmus project.

The province is also looking for a project manager for Phase 1 of the work.