By Belle Hatfield
The Yarmouth Vanguard
Premier Darrell Dexter was on offence on Thursday as he clarified comments he made regarding the economic impact on Yarmouth of the loss of the ferry service to Maine. The ferry issue was raised Wednesday, Jan. 2, during a broad-ranging interview on CBC radio's Information Morning about his government's last three years in office, much of which focussed on the problems besetting rural Nova Scotia.
His use of the word "mythology" to describe people's perceptions of the impact the loss of the ferry has had on the local economy had people posting on Facebook and local politicians reacting with outrage.
During an interview the next day he wasn't backing away from his comments, but seeking to expand upon them.
"I said what I meant and I meant what I said," he told the Vanguard. "There is a mythology that has grown up around the ferry service, which is that this is a panacea for the economic challenges facing south west Nova Scotia. It is not and it was not."
The premier said the ferry issue has been used by opposition members as a political tool that has diverted attention away from the structural decline in the area's economy due to factors not related to the ferry.
"And that becomes an extraordinary obstacle to progress in that part of the province, because it is all anybody hears," he said.
Dexter points out that tourism was in decline before the ferry service was cancelled.
"I was in Yarmouth in 2007-2008 [while in opposition] when motel owners were literally bulldozing over their properties because of a decline in ferry traffic," he continued.
The premier pointed to the purchase of Bowater’s forest resources and investment in the Shelburne boatyard as examples of the government's efforts to support the region's struggling economy.
"One of the reasons we’re doing the things that we are doing in south west Nova Scotia is to deal exactly with the economic challenges that we see. We could not find a silver bullet. We need a lot of different things happening in a lot of different ways, I call it silver buckshot. That is the only way that you broaden the base of the economy in order to allow for sustainable long-term growth," he said.
And while Dexter agrees that it is beneficial to the province to be linked by water with the New England states, he says the federal government has a critical role to play.
"Right up into the mid-1990s that service was a federally supported service. That was when the federal government withdrew that support and privatized the service," he said. "So if you are going to continue to have that kind of an international service, in my view it cannot be left to a small province, with one of the most fragile economies ... to load that growing problem onto the shoulders of a small province is not fair."
The premier says he remains committed to supporting any service that has a chance of long-term sustainability, but says of the Cat service, "there was no chance that that service was ever going to be economically viable and there was no proposal that came forward at that time for any alternative kind of service."
-- a story about The Vanguard's interview with Premier Dexter will appear in our next print edition.