In defence of infrastructure

I can’t seem to figure out why governments will pour hundreds of millions into highway infrastructure each year but hardly a penny into ports, railroads, telecommunications and even energy infrastructure. I guess a few municipalities are investing in small wireless networks but overall it seems that the word ‘infrastructure’ has a very limited definition in Fredericton and Ottawa.

The truth is that while highways are important so are other forms of infrastructure. Quebec has invested millions in its railroads, hundreds of millions in its port (s). Ireland is building industrial parks with spec. buildings in the hinterland.

Even NB in the good old days was investing broadly in infrastructure. Like it or not both the Lepreau and Belledune power plants were built for economic development purposes. Now we hear that Lepreau 2 is likely to be all private sector and market rates. NBTel was a leader in Canada at rolling out fibre optics/digital. Now, as Aliant, I hear there are sufficient gaps in the network such that real data centres are an unlikely alternative for attraction to New Brunswick.

It’s funny. Health care ‘infrastructure’ is a right and beyond discussion but economic development infrastructure is considered by many a needless waste of government investment.

And, in many ways, we are witnessing the results of that attitude. But look at the bright side. We’ll have great highways and shiny new hospitals.

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0 Responses to In defence of infrastructure

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, money poured into ports, railroads, and telecommunications do not buy votes as much as money poured into highways and hospitals do.
    It’s a visual rather than actual value for money.

  2. mikel says:

    That’s not exactly true, first of all, go talk to St. Johners, where ER docs were all going to quit because they were so overworked, or in the north, where a woman just died because of the lack of ANY emergency care.

    As for the ‘whys’, New Brunswick is a cog in a bigger machine. In North America especially we are seeing the removal of government and the introduction of corporate governance. Highways are a priority because that’s what the business interests want, and government acts according to those needs.

    In energy especially, the government is not necessary. You’ll notice one of the terms of the Alberta wind deal is that NB will buy the power at a set rate. The same is part of the nuclear deal because energy prices are too sporadic. Those companies want a guarantee of a profit and that’s one way of getting it. Remember the old CBC article that was never followed up-the where NBPower was buying from Irving at a set price even when they didn’t need it?

    For ports, well, that’s not true either, we just saw a huge investment in the Halifax port, it wasn’t the crazy deep water idea that AIMS was pushing for-it was to service the businesses currently there, and to satisfy the americans who wanted more security.

    In short, the money goes where business interests want it. In New Brunswick, with all the various loans, tax credits, etc., that flows into Irving, there is no way of knowing how much money New Brunswickers have put into the Irving Port, but I have no doubt that its substancial.

    While a lot of money goes into health, its not nearly what is required. In Canada now its hard to find a province that even pays for eye exams anymore. In most of europe ‘socialized medicine’ includes not only eye care but dental care as well, and virtually no party ever even mentions including those. New Brunswickers also pay the highest out of pocket expenses for their drugs in Canada-a figure I think we got from you.

    If you thought about it, the first thing a province with a brain would have done when Irving said it needed an oil refinery ‘partner’ would be to get an equity stake. It’s clear the province is going to be a ‘partner’ of a kind anyway, and theres no losing money on oil nowadays.

    The same for nuclear. We know Grahams’ dad is tied into the AECL, so anybody with a lot of faith in ‘objectivity’ there should think twice. From their point of view its perfect, much like the ‘invisible’ privatization of road maintenance. You’ll virtually NEVER hear a media story about how many millionaire’s have been created out of privatization-most eople are hardly aware its going on. So in energy, the government will act as a guaranteed purchaser so the private sector can make money.

    The big issue nobody talks about is nuclear regulation. In a province with such lax regulation (AV Nackawic was just fined less than the price of a new car for being so negligent that a man lost his hand), who actually feels safe that the government will ‘regulate’ a private nuclear facility? Sure, they will SAY they are, but then they say that about forests as well, and the minister recently said “well, somebody’s gotta kill those trees so we might as well let them ship them out of the province”.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Actually Mikel, both of your health care examples have to do with greedy docs blackmailing the system. These docs are playing their own kind of politics and how they can sleep at night is beyond me.
    In many ways, health care infrastructure is politically motivated and the profit comes back in the form of votes. There is no way to sell bed closures and shutting down hospitals … just ask Lord and Elvy.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As for telecom, I am in the telecom industry in NB and have been expousing for some time the need for the Govt to step up and improve the communications infrastructure of the province, once the envy of the world is now an also ran. I don’t believe the PNB should be subsidizing Aliant, Rogers or anyone’s network builds, the PNB should be contracting to build its own fibre network, open to all providers to supply services. I was involved heavily in wireless and it has its place but Nova Scotia is way off the mark investing almost $100 million into a wireless expansion, there are alternatives, hybrid fibre/wireless systems. Even NBEPC could become more inventive and leverage its infrastructure and build a fibre network. But i am afraid there aren’t too many innovative telecom people left in this province, Aliant managed to stifle that mindset.

  5. Joel says:

    Hey David,

    I always get the feeling that people here see grants to ports, railways and much else as “subsidies”, whereas they see money for roads as “an investment”, i.e. “real” infrastructure. They thus see car transportation as “unsubsidised”. I don’t get it either.