By Kirk Starratt
They aren’t prepared to write any blank cheques, but local candidates representing the four provincial political parties say they are willing to work with stakeholders on the Waterville airport relocation.
The issue has become one of the hottest in the election campaign, as outlined in the Oct. 1 Advertiser. Although only party leaders can make a firm funding commitment, a cross section of local candidates were asked for their position and whether they would fight for provincial funding to move the airport.
Kings West NDP Bob Landry, who has 34 years experience as an aviator, said he gets the impression the airport will move. He hears some people reacting as though this is a catastrophe, but he only sees opportunity.
Landry said it would be great if a new airport were built further east. On the other hand, all the airbases he was on during his military career always had civilian operations on the airfield.
“I’ve seen military and civilian operations co-located with no issues,” Landry said. “I don’t see catastrophe, I see opportunity.”
However, he recognizes that moving to a military airbase is probably the last thing the civilian pilots at Waterville would want.
Landry said, if elected, he would support and fight for provincial funding for whichever option the municipality and local stakeholders decide on.
Kings South Liberal Keith Irving said he would certainly fight for provincial funding for the move, with one condition: he wants to see more formal documentation from Michelin first, something that hasn’t been publicly available to date. Irving said he wouldn’t want to discourage their expansion, but more information is needed from the company in terms of the size, scope and schedule.
“This will allow us to make a prudent decision moving forward with the relocation,” Irving said.
He said he supports ongoing discussion but, if funds are required, we should look to all partners, including Michelin. It’s important for all stakeholders to work together on the matter.
“This is significant enough to have provincial support,” Irving said, pointing out that the Liberals would be at the table, if elected.
Kings North Progressive Conservative candidate John Lohr said he is very much in favour of the relocation. He said it’s a real economic driver for the county and has the potential to become an even greater economic development generator.
“It’s a real opportunity,” Lohr said. “I’d certainly fight for it.”
Lohr said he’d be “dead set against” the airport moving to 14 Wing Greenwood, as he doesn’t believe this is the best option to realize the economic development potential.
Lohr thinks a PC government would want to see a business plan before making a commitment to pay for the move. That would be a big factor in their support. He said a business plan would shed light on where the airport would go and what the economic development potential of the move would be.
Kings North Green Party candidate Mary Lou Harley said their approach would be to thoroughly explore the first option: moving the airport to 14 Wing Greenwood.
Harley recognizes that there are a number of critical questions to answer, including the level of willingness of the federal government to allow private businesses to operate there.
Harley said this begs the question of whether or not the situation in Greenwood can be adapted to meet the needs of the civilian aviation community. If it couldn’t, the question for the county becomes where to move the airport and what would be lost by taking that space.
“Until we have the data, we can’t make a judgment.”
Harley said the Green Party would be there to support the people’s decision.